Dromiciops – – Monito del monte

A bad omen or a harmless seed disperser?

The monito del monte, whose name translates to “little mountain monkey,” is a fascinating nocturnal marsupial shrouded in mystery and ancient lineage. This diminutive creature, native to the dense temperate rainforests of Chile and Argentina, is the only extant representative of the order Microbiotheria, a group of marsupials with deep evolutionary roots connecting South America with the distant marsupials of Australia.

Resembling a mouse in size but a possum in habit, the monito del monte weaves between the realms of myth and reality. While they have been mistakenly grouped with the opossums of the order Didelphimorphia in the past, contemporary genetic analyses have unveiled their closer kinship to their Australian counterparts, revealing a biological tapestry rich with historical significance.

Local folklore paints the monito del monte in ominous hues, often casting it as a bearer of ill tidings or an ill-omened creature lurking in the twilight shadows. Some legends have even wrongly attributed venomous traits to these gentle arboreal climbers. However, such superstitions are but echoes of a bygone era, and modern science has cast light upon their true nature. Far from being the malignant figures of old wives’ tales, monitos del montes are ecological saviors, playing a pivotal role in their ecosystems. They are adept seed dispersers, particularly of the mistletoe species, which are crucial to the forest’s health and serve as a keystone species. The fruits consumed and later excreted by these marsupials facilitate the growth of new plants, thus ensuring the propagation and survival of the forest’s flora.

As nocturnal creatures, monitos del monte have evolved a set of adaptations that enable them to thrive in the dense understory. Their diet is varied and opportunistic, including insects, fruits, and nectar, which they forage with their agile, prehensile tails and dexterous paws. As the Southern Hemisphere winter approaches, they accumulate fat reserves in their tails, allowing them to survive the colder months in a state of torpor, a testament to their resilience and adaptability.